1) Eve’s Bayou
Kasi Lemmons brought Black southern gothic to the box office with her 1997 directorial debut Eve’s Bayou. Starring Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Meagan Good, Samuel L. Jackson, Lynn Whitfield and Debbi Morgan, the film gives a story of infidelity a witchy twist. The film isn’t just Lemmons’ directorial debut; it’s also her writing debut as well. The film has also been added to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 2018.
Dee Rees brought audiences into her world with 2011’s semi-autobiographical film Pariah. The film stars Adepero Oduye as Alike, a girl who realizes that she loves the same sex, which causes a rift between her and her parents, particularly her mother (Kim Wayans). The film was executive produced in part by Spike Lee, and earned an Excellence in Cinematography Award at Sundance.
Ava DuVernay gave viewers an up-close seat to the events that led up to the historic “Bloody Sunday” march in Selma, AL at the height of the 1960s civil rights movement. DuVernay, whose father grew up near Selma, was able to reconnect to her father’s childhood memories of the civil rights movement, including the marches from Selma to the capital in Montgomery. Starring David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Common, Cuba Gooding Jr., Tessa Thompson, Lakeith Stanfield, Stephan James, Wendell Pierce and Alabama native André Holland, the film gained critical acclaim and was re-released in 2015 to honor the 50th anniversary of the march.
4) Their Eyes Were Watching God
Darnell Martin directed Halle Berry and Michael Ealy in the 2005 ABC television movie adaptation of Their Eyes Were Watching God. If you were in your adolescence like me, you were officially introduced to the eye-candy that is Ealy. But on a less shallow note, the film does a good job of introducing viewers to Zora Neale Hurston’s legendary 1937 novel. It also increased Oprah Winfrey’s shot-calling power in Hollywood, seeing how Harpo Productions produced the film for TV.
5) Life is Not A Fairy Tale: The Fantasia Barrino Story
Debbie Allen directs singer Fantasia Barrino as she plays herself in her own 2006 Lifetime film. The film, based on Barrino’s New York Times bestselling autobiography, details Barrino’s ups and downs throughout her life, including sexual abuse, illiteracy, teen pregnancy and, of course, her historic American Idol win. The film is worth a watch just to see Barrino blow the house down. Viola Davis, Julius Tennon, Loretta Devine and Kadeem Hardison also star. The film was well received and was nominated for four NAACP Awards, with Hardison winning his nomination.
6) Night Catches Us
Tanya Hamilton brings romance into the world of the Black Panthers in her 2010 film Night Catches Us, starring Anthony Mackie, Kerry Washington, Wendell Pierce, Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, Jamie Hector and Novella Nelson. The film focuses on Marcus (Mackie), a man who has been seen by his former Black Panther brethren as a snitch. His snitching is said to be the blame for the death of another Panther member. But even though he’s now unwelcome in his own neighborhood, he comes back for his father’s funeral. His return sparks a taboo romance between him and the widow of the killed Panther (Washington).
The film garnered positive reviews when it was released. It was nominated and won several awards, including Best Screenplay from the African-American Film Critics Association and Best Film, Best Screenplay, Best Actress and Best Actor from the Black Reel Awards.
7) Daughters of the Dust
Julie Dash’s 1991 seminal classic, Daughters of the Dust, still has relevance to this day. The film chronicles Gullah Geechee culture at a crossroads in the early 1900s. Dash’s film stays relevant for many reasons, such as introducing viewers to Gullah culture and language and the stellar visuals and costume design. But the biggest reason it remains a touchstone is because the film is the first feature to be directed by an African-American woman to gain a wide theatrical release.
Which films are your favorites?